303 Cooper Street

303 Cooper st-reduced.jpg

Title

303 Cooper Street

Description

Contributing structure, Cooper Street Historic District.

Illustrations

Photograph by Jacob Lechner

Significance

303 Cooper Street is a contributing structure of the Cooper Street Historic District, listed on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places. A 1980 survey of historic structures on Cooper Street described the building as “the best example of high-school, pre-Civil War architecture to be found in Camden.” It therefore supports the historic district’s designation on the basis of architectural merit as well as its representation of broad patterns of American history. Through its owners and occupants, this house tells the story of Camden’s development in manufacturing, finance, and medicine, and its later challenges as a post-industrial city. Purchased by Rutgers University in 2001, it serves as an office building for the Rutgers-Camden Chancellor and other senior administrators.

Architectural style

Renaissance Revival

Date of construction

1853

History

Prior to the 1850s, the undeveloped land in the vicinity of Third and Cooper Streets, stretching northward to Pearl Street, was known as “Carman’s Field.” William Carman, a prosperous and prominent operator of a sawmill and lumber yard on the Camden waterfront, controlled more than 10 acres that had descended through the Cooper family to Carman’s wife, Mary Ann Cooper, who died in 1841. The house on the northeast corner of Third and Cooper Streets, later numbered 303, is a product of the sale, division, and development of the Carman land in 1852.

While still owned by Carman, the later location of 303 Cooper Street had a two-story wood frame house occupied during the 1840s by a maker of water pumps, Joseph Vautier, the son of a French immigrant to Philadelphia. Vautier was remembered decades later for the pump that stood in front of his house, which was regarded as a source of excellent water during the cholera epidemic of 1849.

Development of the Carman property displaced Vautier, who moved his family from Third and Cooper to another house to the west beyond Seventh Street. In 1852, a broker named Solomon Stimson acquired the double-width lot at Third and Cooper from a group of investors who had acquired the entire Carman field. In June 1853, the Philadelphia Public Ledger observed him “erecting a large and very tastily arranged dwelling on Cooper Street, which will be an ornament to that rapidly improving section of the city.” Stimson covered the old well with flagstones and ran the water through pipes to serve the new home.

Wealth and Status

Solomon Stimson’s house was double the width of the rowhouses recently constructed in the rest of the block, and it reached beyond them in architectural style with features such as its brownstone foundation and hooded windows. It was similar in size but also fancier than the home recently completed in the 400 block of Cooper Street for George W. Carpenter (401-03 Cooper Street), a lumber merchant who later entered into a manufacturing partnership with Stimson.

The source of Stimson’s wealth and his reasons for being in Camden are unclear. He came from a rural area of Saratoga County, New York, north of Albany, but by 1850 was in Camden, 30 years old, and heading a household that included his wife Flora (28 years old, also born in New York); a one-year-old son, James; his younger brother John, 25 years old; and two domestic servants who were Irish immigrants, Ann and Bridget McLeod. The Stimson brothers both reported their occupations as “brokers,” but brokers of what? It’s possible that their connections with Camden were formed through the lumber industry, given Solomon Stimson’s association with George Carpenter, his purchase of part of the Carman land, and his later return to upstate New York, a timber region.

By 1860, Stimson and Carpenter were in business together as Stimson and Carpenter, manufacturers of tape and webbing at Front and Pearl Streets. (They also both served as trustees of the Second Presbyterian Church, newly founded at Fourth and Benson Streets.) A glimpse of the Stimson family’s material possessions emerged from a burglary in 1864, which netted “about $800 worth of plate, jewelry, ornaments &c.,” the Camden Democrat reported. In 1866, the Internal Revenue Service taxed Stimson on possessions that included a carriage, two gold watches, and a piano.

The Stimson family’s reasons for leaving Camden in 1867 are as unclear as their arrival. They returned to Saratoga County, New York, where Solomon Stimson listed his occupation as “lumber.”

A Judge, Eventually

The next owner of 303 Cooper Street, Isaiah Woolston, had just been elected to the Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders when he purchased the house from Solomon Stimson. Woolston, 50 years old, had a checkered career in and out of businesses that included lumber, poultry, and wholesale liquor. It was in the wholesale liquor business in Philadelphia that “he rapidly accumulated capital,” according to his later obituary in the Camden Morning Post. In Camden, he accumulated political capital as well, holding public office and serving as a director for enterprises that included the Camden Safe Deposit and Trust Co. and the Camden and Amboy Railroad. He was a founder of Trinity Baptist Church.

Woolston and his family occupied 303 Cooper Street for the next three decades, including a ten-year period when he advanced his political career to the position of lay judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Woolston, who had been born in the vicinity of Vincentown, Burlington County, headed a household of four sons with his wife Sarah, originally from Freehold, New Jersey. The family employed Black domestic servants, some of whom are known from Census records: in 1870, Eliza Duncan, 45 years old, who was born in Maryland and unable to read or write; in 1880, Mary E. Hines, 18 years old, also from Maryland and illiterate; and in 1885, Annie Burton, whose age and family history are unknown. A white domestic servant, Laura Dickenson, also came from Maryland and worked in the Woolston home in 1894. Later in the 1890s, the Woolstons advertised a preference for a “German girl for general housework.”

With the benefit of domestic labor for housework, Sarah Woolston engaged in charitable activities. She served on the board of managers for the Camden Home for Friendless Children, which had been organized by prominent Camden residents in 1865. Located on Haddon Avenue above Mount Vernon, it was an altruistic endeavor that also revealed prevailing attitudes toward the poor. While providing shelter, health care, and education to “destitute friendless children,” it also sought to place them out with families to learn trades or useful occupations. The home was also segregated, which prompted the creation of a separate institution for Black children, the West Jersey Orphanage for Colored Children, in 1874.

While living at Third and Cooper, Judge Woolston added real estate investment to his variety of business and political activities. In 1878, he purchased a large tract of then-undeveloped land in the vicinity of Fourth and Penn Streets and resold it to a builder. The property had a frontage of 200 feet on Fourth Street, approximately the later site of the Robeson Library of Rutgers-Camden. Houses filled the block until they were demolished in the 1962-64 urban renewal project that created an enlarged campus for Rutgers.

The four Woolston sons, ages 8 to 14 when they moved into 303 Cooper Street, grew to adulthood at this address. One son, Charles, had a condition that Census takers in 1880 recorded as “insane” and “idiotic.” He died in 1887 at age 30, “very suddenly in Trenton of apoplexy,” raising the possibility that he lived in a state facility. Another son, Clarence, became pastor of the East Baptist Church in Philadelphia and developed expertise in children’s Bible study. Harry Woolston went into the coal business in Camden but also embraced the bicycle craze of the 1890s by starting the Woolston Bicycle Enameling Company. Albert Woolston, a clerk during his father’s judgeship, entered the real estate business.

The Woolston family’s ownership of 303 Cooper Street ended with the death of Isaiah Woolston in 1899 and Sarah Woolston in 1900. The family sold the home to a real estate agent, who advertised, “I will sell the handsome residence at the northeast corner of Third and Cooper Streets, at an exceedingly liberal price provided that a contract is made within ten days.”

Banking and Medicine

For the first two decades of the twentieth century, 303 Cooper Street continued to be home to prominent Camden business leaders. The next two owners were both presidents of the Central Trust Company, a bank founded in 1891 by local businessmen including Abraham Anderson, a canner who had been a partner in the business that later became Campbell Soup. The bank grew quickly to assets of more than $1 million by the time its then-president, Alpheus McCracken, bought the former Woolston home at Third and Cooper Streets.

McCracken rose to business prominence in Camden through the carpentry trade. Born in 1843 in Morris County, New Jersey, McCracken apprenticed as a carpenter by the age of 16. Three years later, he enlisted in the Army and fought for the Union during the Civil War; his unit, the Thirty-First Infantry Regiment of New Jersey Volunteers, saw action at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He moved to Camden from Bordentown, New Jersey, in the 1870s following the death of his first wife, which occurred just one month after the birth of their second son.

Camden’s prominence in the lumber business and railroads proved advantageous for McCracken, as he gained employment as a lumber inspector for the Pennsylvania Railroad’s lines in New Jersey. By the 1880s, he was investing in construction-related businesses, the Richman Fire Escape Company and the Fay Manilla Roofing Company. Although not among the organizers of the new Central Trust Company, he was on its board of directors by 1893 and succeeded Abraham Anderson as president in 1897. Three years later, he moved from North Second Street to 303 Cooper Street, which was closer to the bank at Fourth and Federal.

During their five years in the Cooper Street house, the McCracken family included Alpheus and his second wife, Lillian, a daughter, and two sons. The family also employed Black domestic servants who were born in the South, an indication of the increasing presence of African Americans in Camden at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1900 just before the move to Cooper Street, they employed Mary Hill, a Black woman identified by Census takers only as born in “the South,” who could neither read nor write. In 1905 their household on Cooper Street included a young widow, Rosa Hayden, a 24-year-old Black widow who was born in Virginia, also unable to read or write. Living with her was a 15-year-old Black youth with the same last name, Frederick Hayden, who was attending school.

For reasons not publicly explained, in 1906 the McCrackens moved to Vineland, turning over their house at Third and Cooper to an associate for the nominal sum of $1. The new owner, homeopathic physician Harry H. Grace, was acquainted with Alpheus McCracken through their mutual involvement in the Camden Republican Club (then at 312 Cooper Street) and shared enthusiasm for automobile touring, a new pastime for the wealthy. Grace and his wife, Ellen, established their home and his medical practice at their new address; in 1910, they employed two Black domestic workers, 21-year-old Sadie Hughes and a “house man,” 22-year-old Lorne Flemming (in some records Flemming Green or Lemmond Green), who were both born in Virginia.

During this period, Harry Grace also became involved in management of the Central Trust Company, elected to the board of directors in 1908 and then succeeding McCracken as president of the bank in 1915. Grace’s transition from medicine to banking occurred after his own health scare, which was not publicly identified but necessitated traveling to Frankfurt, Germany, for rest and to “take the celebrated baths in the hope of being restored to his wonted health and vigor,” the Camden Morning Post reported. The journey put Grace and his wife in Europe during the summer of 1914, as the First World War began to unfold following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This apparently cut short the intended treatment of complete rest, as the Graces returned from Europe to Atlantic City, not Camden. Within weeks they traveled again, this time to Rochester, Minnesota, where Grace underwent surgery by one of the renowned Mayo brothers, who soon founded the Mayo Clinic.

A year after the surgery, a celebration at the Union Club in Philadelphia marked Harry H. Grace’s ascendance to the presidency of Central Trust Bank, where Alpheus McCracken remained chairman of the board. By 1917, however, Grace left Camden for Atlantic City, where he continued to work in banking. McCracken resigned as chairman of Central Trust in 1918, citing ill health, and later lived in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

The Strenuous Life

Unlike many homes on Cooper Street, 303 did not undergo conversion into an office building or apartments during the 1920s, the period of construction of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge). As long as it continued to be owned by physicians, which continued into the 1950s, it remained a family home while also including an office for the doctor. This was the case for Dr. Edward Pechin, who bought the property in 1920 (moving from a house immediately behind it at 300 Penn Street). The household that year included Pechin, then 42 years old; his wife, Anna, 38; and their daughter Dorothy, 13. Like their predecessors at this address, they employed a Black domestic worker, 18-year-old Mary Blackson, who was born in New Jersey to parents born in Delaware. They also employed a white maid, 23-year-old Mary Gleaves, who was born in Maryland.

Pechin, who was born in Philadelphia, had come to Camden as a youth to work in a drug store owned by his brother. While his brother maintained the pharmacy, Pechin proceeded to medical school at Jefferson College in Philadelphia, where he graduated in 1903. During that period he appears to have embraced the “strenuous life” philosophy espoused in 1899 by Theodore Roosevelt, who implored men to set aside lives of ease and become strong, individually and for the nation. In Camden, this took the form of the Camden Light Infantry, which formed in 1900, with Pechin participating as a lieutenant by 1904. The group devoted itself to military-style training, and members regarded their participation as cultivating not only physical fitness but also, in the words of a captain of the corps, “habits of mind, self-control, and reverence for the law.”

Focusing his practice on internal medicine and treatment of tuberculosis, Pechin became a member of the Board of Managers of the Camden Tuberculosis Hospital. Some traces of devotion to an active life continued: in 1911 he sprung to the rescue of a woman who tripped in the path of an approaching freight train; in 1918 he was reported to be close to collapse from overwork while treating patients at Cooper Hospital during the influenza epidemic. Known for tirelessly responding to patients, day or night, he later contracted the flu and pneumonia, which permanently sapped his strength.

It came as a “severe shock,” the Camden Morning Post reported, in 1925 when Pechin contracted spinal meningitis. At age 47, he died several days later despite a dozen of his fellow physicians working in shifts to try to save his life with treatments that included spinal taps and brain surgery. His wife and daughter kept vigil. A year later, they left the house at Third and Cooper and relocated to Haddonfield.

Jewish Home

The next long-term owners of 303 Cooper Street, Dr. Max Ruttenberg and his wife, Anna, came to a neighborhood that had transformed during the 1920s to include a significant Jewish presence. Jewish entrepreneurs were active in renovating 50-year-old rowhouses into apartments during the period of real estate speculation that occurred in anticipation of the Delaware River Bridge. A cluster of Jewish-owned businesses, including a tailor shop, a delicatessen, and an automobile dealership, developed just a block away from Third and Cooper in the 200 block of Penn Street. Although Camden’s Jewish population centered more prominently in other parts of the city, the Ruttenbergs were not the only Jewish family in the vicinity of Cooper Street.

Moving from their previous home on State Street in 1933, the Ruttenbergs were a family of five: Max, who was an ear, nose, and throat specialist, was 42 years old, and Anna was 36. They had been married twelve years and had three children, a son Bertram, 10 years old, and two daughters, 8-year-old Ruth and 4-year-old Serita. Their Jewish heritage was rooted in Russia. Max had been born there and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1900, when he was 8 years old, during a surge of new arrivals from southern and eastern Europe. Anna was the daughter of a Philadelphia rabbi who immigrated from Russia, as did her mother.

In addition to their ties to extended family in both Camden and Philadelphia, the Ruttenbergs participated in networks of Jewish civic, social, and faith activities. Anna, a college graduate and a teacher before her marriage, was one of the organizers of the Camden chapter of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America; she served as chapter president in 1932. Shortly after moving to Cooper Street, in 1934, Max Ruttenberg was elected president of the Jewish Welfare Society, which raised funds to encourage self-reliance of the poor and to provide free medical and legal advice. The family’s religious life centered on Congregation Beth-El, which had been established in the Parkside neighborhood of Camden during the 1920s. Bertram Ruttenberg had his bar mitzvah there in 1935, followed by a reception at home.

The Ruttenbergs lived at 303 Cooper Street for a little more than two decades, from 1933 until 1955. During this period Max Ruttenberg, who had degrees in dentistry from the University of Pennsylvania and in medicine from Temple University, joined the faculty of the Penn Graduate School of Medicine. The children grew up, attended college, and married. During the Second World War, Bertram Ruttenberg—by then a medical school graduate—served in Guam with the U.S. Army medical corps. Bertram’s sister Ruth in 1945 married a Philadelphia medical student who then served in the Army and later in the Air Force.

Max and Anna Ruttenberg remained at 303 Cooper Street until the doctor retired in the early 1950s. They spent their later years primarily at the Jersey Shore, and their departure from Cooper Street marked the end of its era as a single-family home.

Service to Camden

After the Ruttenbergs moved from Camden, institutional and office uses of 303 Cooper Street reflected the changing social landscape and needs of the city. In 1955, the Campbell Soup Fund bought the building and presented it to the Camden County Community Chest and Council, an organization that raised and administered funding for “health, welfare, and character-building agencies and the USO.” The new headquarters was intended as a memorial to Arthur C. Dorrance, a president of the Campbell Soup Company and the first president of the Community Chest before his death in 1946. A plaque placed in the building acknowledged his service.

The Community Chest, later known as the United Fund, operated at 303 Cooper for nearly two decades, until moving to 408 Cooper Street in 1972. Its relationships with social service agencies positioned the building to play a role in responding to the city’s needs in the wake of the Camden riot of 1971. After tensions between police and Camden’s growing Puerto Rican population ignited violence, an ad hoc group of social service leaders met at this location on August 27, 1971, to discuss ways of being more useful to the community and to plan responses to future emergencies. Leading the effort were Angel Perez, director of Community Organization for Puerto Rican Affairs, the Rev. Edward Walsh of Catholic Charities, and Ronald B. Evans, chairman of the Camden chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE).

The departure of the United Fund in 1972 led to a period of ownership by Edward Teitelman, a psychiatrist and historic architecture enthusiast who also owned the distinctive nineteenth-century home next door (305 Cooper Street) and other buildings on Cooper Street and nearby. During the 1970s and 1980s, the building housed psychiatry practices and a Veterans Vocational Guidance Center (which lost its funding during federal budget cuts in 1980). The address appeared periodically in legal notices for overdue taxes through 1990 and came into the hands of Rutgers University in 2001 through purchase from a trustee for Edward Teitelman. Thereafter it served as an office building for the Chancellor and other senior administrators of Rutgers University-Camden.

Associated Individuals

For a list of known occupants of 303 Cooper Street, visit the Cooper Street Residents Database and scroll down to 303.

Sources

Francis Berger, Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1910).
Camden City Directories (Camden County Historical Society, Ancestry.com).
Camden County Property Records.
Camden and Philadelphia Newspapers (Newspapers.com and Genealogy Bank).
U.S. Census, 1850-1950, and New Jersey State Census, 1885-1925 (Ancestry.com).
Register of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-65 (Ancestry.com).
Nathanial B. Sylvester, History of Saratoga County, New York (Philadelphia: Everts & Ensign, 1878).
Priscilla M. and Franklyn M. Thompson, "Central Trust Company," National Register of Historic Places.

Research by

Charlene Mires, Scott Hearn, and Lucy Davis

Posted by

Charlene Mires
Send corrections to cmires@camden.rutgers.edu

Collection

Citation

“303 Cooper Street,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed December 4, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/78.

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